Carl Heinrich Graun, one of the prominent figures in German opera in the 18th century, began his musical life - like so many musicians of his day - as a singer in a choir, which in his case was the Dresden Kreuzschule. Profoundly affected by the Dresden Opera, Graun became a tenor in the Brunswick Opera, from which he was drawn to the court of Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, where he performed Italian cantatas at the Prince's home. Upon his accession to the throne, the new king elevated Graun to Royal Kapellmeister in Berlin, and in 1742 the Berlin Opera House opened with Graun's opera Cesare e Cleopatra, the first of 26 operas Graun wrote for that house.
Graun's Passion oratorio and undisputed masterpiece, Der Tod Jesu (The Death of Jesus), was set in 1755, and remained the most often performed Passion in Germany until the 19th century. The poem is the middle part of three oratorio texts by Ramler in the Empfindsamkeit movement of the 1750s. The libretto was intended for Graun but a copy of Ramler's text was somehow received by Telemann who produced his own setting of the oratorio (TWV 5:6) in Hamburg before Graun could perform the premiere in Berlin. Ramler revised his text in 1760. The text is not a full retelling of the Passion of Christ and it does not quote Bible texts. Instead, it presents emotively various aspects of the Passion.
In March Lyra Baroque will be presenting Graun's masterpiece in a performance with Simon Carrington, conductor; Maria Jette, soprano; Nerea Berraondo, mezzo-soprano; Roy Heilman, tenor; Thomas Meglioranza, baritone; and the Grinnell Singers. Until then, see below a performance of Graun's Der Tod Jesu by Das Karlsruher Barockorchester and Die Durlacher Kantorei with Johannes Blomenkamp conducting.